CHICAGO -- With Friday's announcement that the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will see the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins square off at Heinz Field on New Year's Day, hockey fans already can conjure up the images of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby adding to their legacy amidst the snow of a chilly winter's day in Western Pennsylvania.
The '11 Classic also showcases one of the NHL's great rivalries that goes beyond what "The Great 8" and "Sid The Kid" normally bring to the table.
The addition of Ovechkin and Crosby has only made the spotlight's glare more intense on the regional rivals, who have a firm dislike already in place for one another.
"The biggest rivalry I've witnessed in the playoffs was between Rocket Richard and Gordie Howe," said Scotty Bowman, whose nine Stanley Cup titles lead all NHL coaches. "Their teams met in the Final four times in six years in the early 1950s. There wasn't as much goal scoring as there is today but they both had great individual games during that time. Rocket had some big overtime goals and Howe was always a big factor.
"This rivalry between Crosby and Ovechkin, both great players, is good for hockey," Bowman said. "Crosby is a fierce, fierce competitor and Ovechkin is the same. Pittsburgh and Washington have a great rivalry, even though they're not in the same division, because they're close geographically."
"It's the same with the Lakers and Cavaliers," Ovechkin said of his rivalry with Crosby. "Two players play against each other and the media say who is better and who deserves to win. It's the same in soccer, like when Real (Madrid) and Barcelona play. The top players play against each other and everybody says, 'Wow, this is going to be a sick game' and they can't wait for it. It's the same."
"It's Larry-Magic, Dodgers-Yankees in World Series or Yankees-Red Sox," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "When we play Pittsburgh, it's all they talk about, Sid vs. Ovi. When the Red Sox play the Yankees, that's all they talk about is the greatest rivalry in all of sports. Individuals, the only one that comes to my mind right off the top is Magic and Bird. It's hard, growing up they were so far out there that it's hard to think that I'm sitting here comparing them to these guys, but that's what it reminds me of."
It is an infectious rivalry that draws the attention of others too.
"I was fortunate to be around Steve Yzerman when we had the run from the mid-1990s until his retirement in 2006," Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland said. "You look for your leader to be your best player in the biggest games and Steve did that for us. Crosby and Ovechkin have done that for their teams. … This battle is going to go on for a lot of years."
Truth be told, Ovechkin and Crosby are still competing today. Both are finalists, along with Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks, for the Hart Trophy as the NHL's Most Valuable Player that will be awarded at the 2010 NHL Awards at the Pearl Concert Theater at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas June 23.
Crosby and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos nosed out Ovechkin for the Rocket Richard Trophy, scoring 51 times to Ovi's 50.
But it's been this way since the beginning, or 2005 when Crosby was the top selection of the NHL Entry Draft. Ovechkin was the top pick in 2004, so two supreme talents have been going head-to-head ever since.
In the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Crosby's Penguins ousted Ovechkin's Capitals in a tremendous seven-game series in which three games went to overtime. The Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup, giving Crosby another major addition to his glowing resume.
"This was Magic and Bird from back in the day," said Penguins veteran forward Bill Guerin, thinking of the rivalry between not only the two star players, but the clubs too. "It was just a great series for the League and a great series for the game of hockey. I don't know if I've been involved in a series with as many ups and downs as this one. I'll never forget this one.
"Before the series started, we realized what it would be with the hype -- Ovechkin vs. Crosby. But you know what? It's good for the game. It really is. Two of our brightest stars. And everybody should know who Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin are. They're just great athletes."
Crosby added another huge accomplishment in February when, as Team Canada's captain, he scored the overtime goal in the gold medal game against the United States to fulfill that country's destiny. Ovechkin's Russian squad was clobbered by Canada in the quarterfinals and finished off the medal podium.
"I'm not stupid, I don't think this is going to be the last time him and I play each other, the last time we're going to play each other in the Olympics or in the playoffs," Crosby said. "Early on we have seen each other a lot and have been fortunate to have those things happen, but we're still young and there is a lot of time left. The best time to judge players is after their career and I evaluate myself after every year.
"By no means do I compare myself to him. I never will. My goals don't change based on what he does and I'm sure it's the same for him. The things that drive us will always be the same no matter who wins."